were nineteen murals being painted in Mexico in 1948,
not an excessive number, but all were sponsored by the
"revolutionary" government. It had learned that it was
expedient to keep the volatile muralists, as least the
Big Three, busy on walls rather than deal with the political
inflammation their idleness would provoke. Their "provocative"
mural statements were "dangerous" enough. In June a storm
flared up around the mural Diego Rivera was painting in
the Hotel del Prado, a new government hotel. As was the
custom, holy water was to be sprinkled in the building,
and in this case the blessing of the hotel was to be performed
by the archbishop of Mexico, Luis Maria Martinez. Nine
months earlier, Rivera had completed a section of the
mural, Dream of a Sunday in the Alameda; painted
among its large cast of characters was the 19th-century
Mexican politician Ignacio Ramirez, El Nigromante (The
Necromancer), prominently portrayed holding a slip of
paper bearing his
well-known belief, Dios no Existe.
the archbishop arrived to perform the blessing, he of
course, refused to do so unless the offending words were
removed from the mural. During the previous months, it
was well known that the "scandalous" words had been painted
in the mural but there had been little noticeable reaction.
Now, with the archbishop's verdict, the newspapers mounted
an extraordinary campaign of vilification against Rivera.
He refused to change the mural and explained his position
to a reporter: "To affirm 'God does not exist,' I do
not have to hide behind Don Ignacio Ramirez; I am an atheist
and I consider religions to be a form of collective neurosis.
I am not an enemy of the Catholics, as I am not an enemy
of the tuberculars, the myopic or the paralytics; you
cannot be an enemy of the sick,
only their good friend in order to help them cure themselves."
publicity in the newspapers had been riot-provoking, and
Rivera's adamant stand - "I will not remove one letter
from it" - brought forth a mob of some thirty students
who crashed into the Hotel del Prado, vandalizing everything
in their path. In the dining room, the site of the mural,
a knife was used to scrape the words no existe from the
mural, leaving Dios untouched. Malevolently, they further
violated the mural by defacing the self portrait of Rivera
as a young boy. Newspaper reports praised the desecration
of the mural. On the very night the mural was assaulted,
not two blocks away in the restaurant Fonda Santa Anita,
Rivera, along with Mexico's leading artists and intellectuals,
was attending a dinner honoring Fernando Gamboa, director
of the museum of Fine Arts. Gamboa was speaking on the
threats to freedom of expression by the forces of intolerance
when word arrived about the Rivera's mural, causing a
stir in the audience.
midnight, when the guests left the restaurant, "A stentorian
voice was heard filling Avenida Juarez, saying: 'Let's
go to the Hotel del Prado!' It was the voice of David
Alfaro Siqueiros, who arm-in-arm with Jose Clemente Orozco
and Dr. Atl, marched at the head of 100 people. Among
them were the distinguished artists and writers of national
and international fame: Diego Rivera, Gabriel Fernandez
Ledesma, Leopoldo Mendez, Juan O' Gorman, Frida Khalo,
Maria Asunsolo, Raul Anguiano, Jose Chavez Morado, Jose
Revueltas, Arturo Arzaiz y Freg, and many others. Someone
told the doorman of the hotel: "We are reporters." "Everyone?"
he asked. "Everyone!"
the group marched to the luxurious dining room, where
at this hour, amid the notes of a Chopin waltz played
by a chamber orchestra, were dining at various tables
the lawyer Aaron Saenz, the doctor Rafael P. Gamboa, Secretary
of Health and Welfare, and the lawyer Rodolfo Reyes, untiring
propagandist for Franco Spain. At the shout of "Death
to imperialism!" hurled by Alfaro Siqueiros, the orchestra
stopped, the waiters left, and the women present were
startled as the artists entered the dining room. "Viva
Madero! Viva El Nigromante!" the historian Dr. Arturo
Arnaiz y Freg shouted at the top of his lungs. "Death
to the Archbishops who bless whorehouses and beauty salons!"
in his turn shouted Raul Anguiano. A woman, the granddaughter
of Ignacio Ramirez, climbed atop a table and exclaimed:
"The freedom of expression that made the words of El Nigromante
and the fresco of Rivera possible must be respected."
Rivera then climbed on a chair, asked for a pencil and
calmly began to restore the destroyed inscription: "Dios
no existe." Juan O' Gorman held up a delicate cup containing
water for the artist to moisten an improvised brush. Meanwhile
vivas could be heard for Juarez, Madero, El Nigromante
and the Flores Magons. After which Rivera, directing himself
to Rodolfo Reyes, said: "As in Mexico, Franco is not in
command." Directing himself to the manager of the hotel:
"This hotel belongs to the people, it has been built with
the money of the employees." He then threatened that the
hotel manager be ousted by the workers. "And those that
are there dining in evening clothes," pointing again at
Rodolfo Reyes, "they will be finished like Mussolini:
hung by the feet." Siqueiros then announced: "As
many times as they take out the sentence we will come
to paint it in." When the artists left the Hotel del Prado,
the doorman, in his most correct manner, asked, "Shall
I call a taxi, gentlemen?"